A year of positive habits and focus on self-care
In the middle of 2016, I was feeling sluggish, constantly tired, constantly down. I couldn’t shake it off for months on end – I felt like I was hanging off a cliff, desperately holding on. Onto what? At the time, I had no idea. Everything seemed pointless. I was floating through life feeling unfulfilled and quite honestly on the edge of losing my mind.
And then… well, it happened.
A slap on the face.
A punch in the stomach.
A push off the cliff.
A wake-up call.
I ended up in this dark place of depression leading to self-destructive behaviour. The only energy I had left was to pity myself and beat myself up for unfinished conversations…
But you know what they say, time heals, right? In August 2016, that self-pity turned to an incredible force of focus towards healing and levelling myself up. It’s the best knock on the head I’ve ever had and the only one that I am so so so thankful for.
I’ve been so determined never to fall into that scary place ever again.
It’s been a year since and I have made so many improvements towards my mental and physical health that the dark place doesn’t seem so scary anymore. As part of the journey of finding myself again, I implemented four key practices to my life which I swear by. They are game changers!
Note: This is a long post. If you’re looking for something specific, skip to it here:
Meditation is a breathing exercise whereas mindfulness is the practice of being aware of the present moment – the only moment that really matters! Both meditation and mindfulness go hand in hand. Breathing helps ground you into the present. Contrary to popular belief, meditation is not just “emptying your mind” or some weird “voodoo shit” 😅
How does it help?
I always found it hard to explain why I love meditation so much and how it has had such a big impact on me! (I mean why else would I be doing it every morning for 400+ days now?) But after reading The Brain Book by Phil Dobson (which connected my Biomed knowledge to meditation! 💡) it now makes a lot of sense! When meditating, your parasympathetic nervous system kicks in – which triggers your ‘rest and digest’ state. This plays a huge role in homeostasis (i.e. finding that perfect balance) and helps you rest and relax.
Most of you already know this because I talk about it A LOT but I like to meditate with the app Calm. I recommend using apps, especially if you’re a beginner as they really help make it a habit over time.
Meditation has helped me in so many different ways but the most effective thing for me is the wonders it does with managing my anxiety.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve had severe anxiety and panic disorder; to the point I would get terrifying panic attacks (I wouldn’t be able to breathe, I would have total loss of control of my body. If you’ve experienced a panic attack before, you’d know what I mean) I had been on medication to control them before but I found that they aggregated it further as well as made me suffer from a range of other side effects. After a terrible panic attack that left me shaken for days after my second-year exams and seeing the impact it had on my family and close friends, I decided to take action and desperately looked for something to ease it.
I found meditation and since starting Headspace then switching to Calm, my panic attacks and general anxiety has lessened. When I am on the verge of anxious feelings, I turn to mediation and after 10 minutes of focused breathing and enhanced self-awareness – i.e. understanding why I’m feeling anxious, accepting it and then letting go – I prevent the negative feelings from losing control in my mind.
Other ways meditation has helped me:
- Become more mindful and present which has improved all my relationships. I always aim to be 100% focused rather than having divided attention.
- Become more grateful for things. I admit that in the past I have taken things and people for granted. Since practising gratitude (with meditation and journaling) I’ve improved my relationships SO much and attracted the type of people I want in my life (like Matt ❤️). I’m also so much happier!
- Awareness is a common theme in meditation. Being aware of my emotions especially has helped me be more in control, allowing me to deal with difficult emotions much more effectively.
- Kept me calm when I travel 😊 Travelling used to terrify me, in the past I couldn’t even take a train alone without having a panic attack. You can imagine that flying was absolutely out of the question! I mean in the past if you would have asked me “don’t you want to travel the world though?” I would’ve answered, “yes, I’d walk though 🤷🏻♀️”
Having Calm play in the background and doing meditation when I felt scared has helped me more than anything. I mean, I think my constant travelling this year really shows it!
Esha on Twitter asked, “how do you motivate yourself to meditate?”
I’m only human, so naturally, I get lazy! It was really difficult when I first started; I actually had to restart a few times before it became a habit. Having a dedicated time to meditate helped with habit-formation, I do mine every morning because my mind is “less busy” with events from the day.
My main motivation to meditate is knowing full well of the benefits it has on my mental health. I’ve seen results from doing it – by the fewer anxiety attacks and my feelings generally. Whenever I do feel lazy (I have had days like that, believe it or not!), I remind myself of these effects and close my eyes. 10 minutes later, as I open my eyes, I feel incredible: calm, happy, grateful. That’s all the motivation I need. 💙
Elise on Twitter asked, “I wanna know how you deal with these things emotionally! cliche, I know but I wanna see how you defeat your inner insecurity and stuff”
It all comes down to awareness. I’ve talked about it a lot already but remembering how awesome I am, how I kicked my anxiety’s butt this year, how I fell so low but pulled myself back up and just celebrating even the smallest achievements and milestones help defeat my inner insecurity. I’m a lot less insecure to I was in the past, I think meditation and positive self-talk helped with this a lot so give it a go! Having a positive and empowering network is key too – my confidence boost wouldn’t have reached this high without everyone 💜
Oh no, Pauline is going to talk about exercise again… Yes, but hear me out!
When did it start?
It started with my fifth box of Ben and Jerry’s, refusing to do anything but cry over an unexpected messy breakup. I remember I was in the corner of my room, unable to cry anymore. It was 5-6am when my dad walked in and asked if I wanted to go on a run, I had lost count at that point how many times he asked me over the past month but for some reason, that day, I said yes. I finally got up and went with him.
I was so unfit, I was sweating, panting and my lungs felt like they had disappeared from my body. But afterwards, it felt amazing.
The next week or so, he asked me if I wanted to go to the gym with him instead of running because of the rain that day. Usually, I would roll my eyes at the thought but that weekend I agreed.
I ran on the treadmill, used the elliptical and bike. I stayed way away from the weights area but my dad reassured me that weights wouldn’t make me “look like a man” instead, it’d make me stronger.
Stronger? Stronger was what I wanted to be.
All that energy I had to pity myself turned to focus on something much more positive and empowering: getting and being stronger; both mentally and physically.
Since that day in August, I have never looked back and regretted my decision. I only thank my past self for starting.
The journey 2016 – 17
*click on the images for a closer look if you want! 🔎
- Every weekend, I did an hours worth of cardio on the treadmill and bike.
- Eventually, I got bored. My dad enlightened me on the magic that is strength training. That’s when I started weight lifting. I was hooked.
September – December
- My obsession peaked; I was reading a lot of nutrition and fitness books as well as watching videos of other people working out. I bought my first of dumbells – 3kg in total. I remember dragging it around the store, I was so weak, it was SO difficult to lift. I was complaining to my dad after, he said that it will be ‘nothing’ to me in a few months, and he was right – 24kg is too easy 😏
- I stumbled upon FitnessBlender and randomly started their 5 minutes butt and thigh workout which I did every evening.
- This slowly turned into longer workouts with them. Sometime towards the end of September, I bought their FB abs and FB flex programmes. I did these two programmes back to back every. single. day. Now I don’t recommend you work out twice a day – overtraining is a thing, it’s not healthy at all and undermines your progress. But back then, I didn’t really have much to do and I found so much happiness listening to Kelli and Daniel transparent, HEALTHY, no-bullshit approach towards fitness.
- In addition to this, I also went to the gym with my dad and Hamdah on the weekends where I’d lift heavier than I would during the week (which would mainly focus on bodyweight training and HIIT.) Most of my workouts were derived from Whitney Simmons – I’d do legs on Saturday and arms on Sunday with a long stretching session when I got home.
- I lost A LOT of body fat and started to feel so much stronger.
- I worked out almost every single day during this period – I was exhausted after 7 pm and would be asleep by 9 pm. 😆 Often times, earlier. I was my “fittest” but the whole thing wasn’t attainable long-term.
January – July
- I stepped down a bit from the intense workout schedule especially after getting really sick at the start of the year; my doctor and family had said I was overtraining so I had to take a break and slow down.
- I still did FitnessBlender programmes – FBabs and FB30 5 days a week and a day over the weekend of training with my dad. I found more of a balance 🤗
July – now:
- I wanted to switch up my routine a bit as I highlighted in my July goals. At the time, I had just booked tickets to London for the Gymshark pop-up store event and found out that Grace Beverly (i.e. GraceFitUK) was going to be there. I’ve been following Grace for a while now; even before my fitness craze, hoping that maybe one day I will stop binge eating on unhealthy food – who knew that it would be the year 2016/17? 😆 I was browsing through her feed and decided to purchase her guide (Grace Fit Guide) after seeing some recommendations on Twitter and Instagram.
- I have been doing the guide for 6 weeks (I’ve been on holiday for a week so I took a break in between) and once a week (usually the cardio day) I’ll do a FitnessBlender HIIT workout!
- The guide focuses on different muscle groups each day and encourages you to increase weights each week. After the first week, I was ACHING like I did the very first time I started working out.
- 6 weeks later, I’ve seen an incredible improvement in my upper-body strength and back and shoulder gainz – something I hadn’t really focused on before. My bum is a bit more lifted and abs are popping a bit more too 😏 I feel so much stronger and IT’S SO EMPOWERING. The community of girls also doing the guide is an awesome motivation too 😊 It’s so refreshing seeing the support!
- Once I finish this guide, I’m planning to do her second guide and repeat with heavier weights each time.
Before and present
Comparing photos from July 2016 – Barcelona and August 2017 – Fuerteventura
What keeps me going? Where do I find the motivation?
As I’ve said before, sometimes I want to give up because I get lazy (especially in the winter!) When this hits me, instead of getting frustrated I have learned to accept what I’m feeling (meditation has helped me so much with this) Sometimes, I skip a day, label it as my rest day and reschedule my exercise routine or lay down in bed for longer until I feel motivated enough to get up.
And that’s fine.
I think too many people give up when they miss a day or get lazy for a week, your gains don’t disappear after a day or a week, it’s completely fine to fall off the fitness waggon as long as you jump back! Don’t rush to get back onto it – definitely only when you really feel like you want to.
Initially, I would beat myself up for skipping a day or two. It wasn’t until I would do my meditation that I become mindful of my negative self-talk. As soon as I realise, I stop myself – it’s not healthy at all (the only way you should be talking to yourself is the way Carly talks about me and ice cream) Turning to accept that my body needs to rest sometimes and that naturally it gets burnt out hasn’t been easy but with most things, after really focused practice, it gets easier. After all, we must always listen to our bodies!
I get asked about finding motivation and what keeps me going all the time. My ability to be consistent and bounce back has come from remembering why I started. I started because:
- I wanted to become stronger
- I wanted to pull myself out of a depressive state I was in
- I wanted to change my life – I was tired of feeling tired all the time.
Every time I think back to how I felt during the time where I was lacking so much energy, I gain so much momentum to push forward and focus on levelling myself up. Always competing with my past self. The gal last week who lifted 10kg, can now lift 12kg. Fuck yeah.
My sister asked me when my fitness phase would end. I don’t think I’ll ever stop working out. My ‘fitness obsession’ is now a lifestyle that I chose to adopt and brings me so much happiness and joy.
It’s my fuel to get through the day; seriously that endorphin rush I get is something else!
And it’s become SO MUCH MORE than how I look, at the end of the day, it stems from how valuable it is to me. And to me, prioritising my long-term health is much more valuable than anything!
I know I wouldn’t still be doing it if I only cared about how I looked like. I mean, yeah, gainz are fucking awesome but sometimes they’re slow, sometimes they’re not visible – I found that with my abs – stronger core but invisible for months (until I focused on fat loss) It could’ve thrown me off completely and demotivated me but I chose to focus on how I felt. Like hello? Can we have a reality check for a minute? I’m stronger than yesterday, I can hold a plank longer than 10 seconds. THANK YOU BODY FOR BEING SO AMAZING?
How I feel after finishing that last set and knowing the good that I’m doing to my body is worth every pain to gain.
My journey hasn’t finished; it’s only just begun. But it’s always good to reflect and highlight achievements – celebrate yourself and your hard work always, gal!
Other benefits of exercise
- Kicking my anxiety’s butt, one rep at a time.
- Improving my mood. A happy Paw is the best kind of Paw.
- Awakening me – getting off to a good start every morning!
- Making me appreciate my body; allowing me to focus on caring for it.
- Confidence 🚀
- Worth mentioning again: stronger. I’m so much stronger. Both mind and body.
- Start slowly (don’t go hardcore like I did initially which caused me to get sick and miss the first date with a guy I actually really like. Sorry, Matt!) Instead of hitting the gym every day, try gradually getting into the routine. I started with a day a week which turned to (after my body got used to it) 2-3 times and now 5-6 times a week.
- Walk more – to work, to university, to the shops! This helped reduce my body fat A LOT. It helps that Sheffield is a hilly so I’m always hitting up a sweat no matter where I go 😆
- It’s okay to take a rest day or week once in a while as long as you get back into it. Never let the days turn into months!
- Stay inspired. Follow fitness accounts on social media; this helped me stay on top of my commitment to my physical health. 👏🏻
- Life is too short to wear average gym clothes. Rock out. Ok, this isn’t a legit tip but you know how I feel about Gymshark?
- And finally, focus on how you feel, not how you look. That comes after. ❤️
What is “clean eating”? It’s being 100% mindful of everything you put in your body!
No, I don’t cut chocolate out of my life. I mean, how could I possibly?? I’ve talked about how bad my eating habits were in the past. I used to skip breakfast, have JUST a muffin or binge eat Kinder Buenos and ready salted crisps, have Chinese take away every day and ignore my mom who would tell me to eat more fruit and vegetables. I mean vegetables are so over rated though. Right?
Wrong. That lack of energy I had and sluggishness was all from not being mindful of what I was putting in my body. Around the same time I started exercising, I began a clean eating journey which was inspired mainly by Fitness Blender. Kelli and Daniel talked a lot about eating “real” food in their videos. Fuel is what you need to function. Good fuel helps you kill your workouts and smash your day! I made the decision to gain control of my eating habits.
I didn’t rush into only eating greens 24/7 – that’s a set-up for failure. I started slow.
- I replaced my sugary cereals with organic oats and fruit.
- I started drinking water first when I felt hungry – I learnt that sometimes I confuse being dehydrated for hunger.
- I stopped eating processed food and made mindful decisions to eat “real” food
- Made myself lunch instead of buying it! (pain in the ass for someone who dislikes cooking!)
- Reduced amount of takeaway food and eating out (saved me lots of ££)
- Replaced chocolate with Greek yoghurt (this was really difficult)
I did this for a week. Survived. Did it again for another but started craving sugar and chocolate… So you know what I did? I ate chocolate.
And guess what? I didn’t fall back down to step one. Depriving yourself isn’t what this is about! Life is too short, have the chocolate bar, if you must as long as it’s all in moderation.
After a while, positive food choices got even easier.
I remember the first time I skipped my “cheat day”, I was SO surprised. My taste buds got accustomed to what I used to think was “bland” and “boring” food… I mean I started craving kale and dreaming of green juices; that says a lot, does it not?
Impact of eating clean:
- My body had never felt so “healthy” before – like don’t want to go into too much detail but let’s just say my guts are happy.
- General body fat % ⬇️, especially belly fat!
- I had a lot more energy. “How is Pauline so hyped all the time? Why is she literally buzzing and jumping off the walls?” EATING REAL NUTRITIOUS FOOD DOES THIS TO ME OK.
- I stopped craving “bad” food. I’m actually not fond of oily food, takeaways (apart from Street Food Chef, don’t @ me) and junk food anymore.
- Happier because healthier 😁
Now now, I’m not perfect.
I’m sure my former colleagues will tell you that they’ve seen me have days where I’d run to the local shop buying a shelf of chocolate rice cakes. Almost every single time I do, I immediately regret it. I get dizzy spells and feel a little sick after binge eating junk food.
I recall it happened a lot in NYC. I was so happy returning home to fresh vegetables. 🥒
I still have a lot to learn about food – especially actually making it 😆 – but I am so eager to!
- 🍳 Breakfast: Protein powder (chocolate flavour!), organic oats, blueberries (or any berries / fruit I have around), chia seeds or fruit shake (usually has to have grapefruit in it! 😍)
- 🥗 Lunch: Protein bowl: Quinoa, kale, black beans, chicken
- 🍍 Snack: Greek yoghurt (and if I’m craving something sweet, almond chocolate), almonds, rice cakes, Apple Cider Vinegar (does this count as a snack?), chocolate powder.
- 🍲 Dinner: MY DAD’S COOKING IS GREAT, NUTRITIOUS AND HEALTHY OK OK I’M SO GRATEFUL!!!
When I got into Bullet Journaling, I included a gratitude page which I would add to everyday. I stopped for a couple of months but picked it back up in January with my Five Minute Journal. I have both the hardback and app so that I would be much more consistent with it.
I like starting and ending my day with good vibes; no matter how bad it may have been. I know sometimes I get frustrated when things aren’t going right or when I compare myself to others, leading to feelings of relative deprivation. I’m sure that we’ve all been there!
Practicing gratefulness every day has made me appreciate things more, including my own achievements (which helps a lot when I compare myself!), my incredible support network, family and awareness that I am so fortunate because I have everything I need and more. 💙
- Journal at the same time every day
- Things you’re grateful for don’t need to be long – just simply, “waking up, feeling happy” is perfectly fine!
- Start with a template – that helps! I recommend using the Five Minute Journal. You don’t need to purchase it, you can just copy the layout of it and make it your own completely
- There are other ways to practice gratitude, such as meditation and actively telling people how you appreciate what they have done for you 😊
Bringing it all together
In the summer of 2016, I was broken and lost, with no idea who I was because up to that point I was just someone’s girlfriend. I was dependent on him for my source of happiness and love. I was insecure, anxious and fearful of the unknown.
A year later, I have not only “fixed” myself but also levelled up beyond my imagination – in just 12 months. Using that little bit of hope and energy that I had left on self-care is the best thing I have ever done. I’m so alive, so happy, so energetic and excited about the present and the future and feel nothing but appreciation for the past. ❤️ I am independent, I make myself happy, I am SO SO SO in love with myself. I’m confident and face the unknown with my head held high – ready and willing.
I found myself again.
Take control of your life, we only have one! I hope that this inspired you to focus on yourself and introduce positive habits to your life. Your future self will thank you for it!
I’m going to conclude this post with a favourite quote I saw on Twitter the other day, which is the general idea of this whole post. If you want to take anything out of it, it should be…
Everything happens on a mental level before it manifests into the physical level. This is why it’s so important to get your mindset right. – idil on Twitter